As a Professional Benefit Auctioneer for 20-plus years I have the privilege of hosting fundraising auctions all across the country. Besides the Southwest Florida area where I reside, I’ve also been the auctioneer this year for events in Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, Monterey, Sonoma and even Juneau, Alaska, to name just a few.
This is especially true when you travel from state to state. The different regions of our nation have different fundraising traditions, different likes and dislikes, and different donors with different expectations.
I learn a great deal from my travels. That’s because every event is like a classroom. I get to discover long running regional traditions as well as absorb new ideas. I’m like the proverbial “kid in the candy store.”
Throughout the course of the year I hear from a number of Event Chairs looking for fresh themes, fresh ideas for their upcoming fundraiser.
I also hear that these Event Chairs and members of their committee learn what other charities are doing across this great land and then incorporate those ideas into their own events.
Although this would seem like an innocent enough strategy – as for the practice – I do have a caution.
I highly recommend that charities learn from others but don’t chase, implement or copy another charity’s idea.
There are a number of reasons for this.
- Some seasoned auction attendees will find this practice tacky
- Charities that copy ideas can lose credibility
- Attendees and their expectations are different from event to event
- The skill sets of staff and personnel vary
- What works for one charity doesn’t always work for another
Let me briefly explain my reasoning. Since the first two speak for themselves I’ll focus on the last three via what I believe is a great example.
Instead of conducting a live auction, a charity decided to raise money through the Fund-a-Need program.
For those unfamiliar with Fund-a-Need, that’s when attendees give cash donations to a specific cause. (Ex: Purchasing a new vehicle to deliver meals to the elderly.)
The twist for this charity was, they were not going to do just one major Fund-a-Need during what would have been the live auction portion of their event – which is the norm – but six smaller Fund-a-Needs.
This event was a great success for several reasons.
- It was well planned out months in advance
- The charity knew its attendees were receptive to the idea of not bidding on specific items, such as trips and adventures, but focusing on the charity’s specific needs
- The charity had the well trained staff and personnel in place to pull it off
The success of the fore mentioned event lead another charity to try the same exact approach. No surprise here. It failed.
And it failed because the audience was different, the event was different, the expectation was different and the charity did not have the right staff or personnel in place to break from the traditional live auction mentality.
What made it even worse is that the attendees felt the charity had “gone to the well” too many times and that created a very awkward situation within the room.
It’s perfectly acceptable for a charity to follow other charities to see what they are doing and how they are doing it. Best auction practices should be a mainstay at all fundraising auctions. The problem is: What works at one event doesn’t always work at another.
I recommend charities follow the beat of their own drum. Don’t copy – Innovate. But innovate within the parameters your attendees will find fun and your staff can handle.
Create your own legend – your own tradition. Everyone will be much happier. And the fundraising effort – more successful.